posted on Feb, 19 2021 @ 05:02 PM
The book of Ecclesiastes tends to be neglected.
I must admit that I’ve been neglecting it myself.
So I come to this book with no preconceptions, except that a book found in the Old Testament must be intended to have a spiritual meaning. The people
who compiled the canon were not in the business of collecting an anthology of “Hebrew literature.
The main theme of the early chapters has been that natural life and human life in the natural world do not go beyond a series of cycles of alternating
events. Any apparent changes are discovered to be stages within these cycles, while the overall system itself does not change.
It is “vanity” for humans to look for anything beyond these things in the natural world, trying to transcend the system on their own. It is
better, and the gift of God, for them to find their enjoyment in the world as it is, maintaining themselves in the way which God has provided.
Nevertheless, God has “put eternity into man’s mind”, in such a way that eternity cannot be known completely. Thus man is made aware of
something greater than himself. “God has made it so, in order that men should fear before him.”
It seems that this nearly completes the central message of the book. Much of what follows looks like an assortment of “footnotes” under the
general heading “other flaws noticeable in human life when God is disregarded”.
We have reached a chapter which looks more like a chapter in Proverbs. That is, we are offered a series of more-or-less self-contained proverbial
statements. The one thread running through the series is that nearly all of them are about folly, describing it or comparing it with wisdom. These
eight verses fall naturally into two groups. In the first half, the fool is vulnerable to clumsy accidents at work. In the second, the fool talks too
V8 “He who digs a pit will fall into it.”
My first thought was that he falls into the pit while he is digging it; “Let me just reach down and… Whoops!”
Alternatively, he’s walking around afterwards, not looking where he is going, and forgets having put it there.
“A serpent will bite him who breaks through a wall.”
We may compare the hypothetical scene in Amos; “It is as if a man… went into the house and leaned with his hand against the wall and a serpent bit
him” (Amos ch5 v19).
What is it about serpents and walls? The biology of serpents is not my field, but until an expert shows up, I propose;
During the day, a wall is useful cover while they are in ambush, or as partial protection from their own predators.
During the night, they like to be close to the residual heat coming off the bricks, or at least from the enclosed area..
These two cases could also be a kind of “poetic justice”, if they were the effects of hostile acts against other people. For example, a man
digging a pit for an enemy and falling into it himself. Isn’t that what happens when Winnie-the-Pooh digs a trap for heffalumps? .
And how often does a man have reasonable cause to be breaking through a wall? It could be an example of “if a thief is found breaking in…”
(Exodus ch22 v2). In that case, the serpent is simply acting as an unpaid watchdog.
V9 “He who quarries stones is hurt by them; and he who splits logs is endangered by them.”
Natural occupational hazards.
V10 It is hard work trying to cut down trees with a blunt axe, or using a blunt saw. A wise man will sharpen the blade. A fool won’t bother, and
will struggle through his work.
V11 “If a serpent bites before it is charmed, there is no advantage in a charmer.”
Is this just the snake-charming for entertainment, beloved of cartoonists? Or is the charmer making a living by “clearing” serpents out of an
area, like the Pied Piper, or like a man “sweeping” for mines? If the serpent has a chance of taking the man by surprise, that possibility does
fit “man looking for serpents” better than “man holding serpent captive”. But the man is a fool if his skill and his reflexes do not match up
to the dangerous occupation he has chosen.
V12 “The words of a wise man win him favour, but the lips of a fool consume him.”
Why is the fool consumed, instead of just losing favour? The point may be that his words lose him favour with God, which has the effect of
destroying him. So, conversely, the words of the wise man are winning favour from God, more than from men.
V13 The words of a fool begin with mere “foolishness”, but develop into “wicked madness”. As in “the foolishness which is madness” (ch7
V14 “A fool multiplies words”.
That criticism is found more than once in Proverbs. “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing an opinion” (Proverbs ch18
“Though no man knows what is to be, and who can tell what will be after him?”
The fact that we cannot know what God plans for the future is a running theme in earlier chapters. I suppose the connection is that only foolishness
is driven to find it out, and spend a lot of words talking about it. There are certain forms of “end-times prophecy” discussion which come into
V15 “The toil of a fool wearies him, so that he does not know the way to the city.”
He over-exerts himself, leaving nothing in reserve, and runs out of energy. Is this literally “not knowing the way”, because his mind is so tired?
Or “not knowing how he can get there”, because his legs won’t carry him?
All this does not stray far from the value-system of Proverbs, in which there is an affinity between the foolish man and the wicked.